Cannibalism as a Dream Symbol

This is an intriguing symbol, and not one I’ve encountered very much. So I’ll start with a theoretical piece about eating in dreams in general, which has resonated for me. Since we don’t need to eat in the dream world, when we do eat, the act has symbolic significance. I’ve learned a lot about this idea from Jeremy Taylor, who discusses eating in dreams on his blog at Psychology Today. I have an “aha” from his suggestion that eating in dreams can symbolize fully taking something in, integrating it into myself so that it is no longer something separate. Like so many things in life, that can have apparently paradoxical meanings. It can be a good sign that I’ve fully integrated some learning or experience, and it could indicate that I’ve taken in beliefs about myself that may or may not be true.

When I imagined cannibalism for myself, I thought about how our first nourishment in this world comes directly from the mother’s body. In the womb, we take in nutrients through her blood. We may have continued to eat from her body after birth, by drinking her milk, though that’s not literally true for every baby, since formulas were and still are used to substitute or supplement breast milk. But in utero, we were all, in a sense, cannibalistic. So the image for me represents those introjects, or beliefs about myself that came from outside of myself, that I received from my mother. Her fears, her joys, her attitude about being pregnant…all of these were emotions I experienced while in her body. Whatever these emotions imprinted on me might still be at the foundation of some belief I have about myself. The graphic horror of the dream image gets my attention in a big way, so this is something I need to know about myself.

The devouring mother is also an archetypal symbol—the Great Mother both gives birth and devours her children. So there’s a resonance for me with cannibalism in the dream, that I am experiencing something in my life that feels like the energy of the devouring mother. It’s an inexorable and inevitable process to grow and change and affect those around us in our lives, and the changes that take place sometimes are difficult to process, and may feel as repulsive as cannibalism. Challenges in life like the loss of a loved one, the shifting relationship to one’s family, the loss of a job, or a physical challenge, may be represented by the cannibalism in the dream. If I eat something, I have to process it; to take what nourishment I can from it and let go of the rest. That process can be difficult, even repugnant from my ego’s point of view, as it will inevitably change the way I understand myself, and the world. And so the dream may choose something I find repugnant in waking life to show me the hard work I’ve been doing.

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